Sunday, April 27, 2014

NOT SO RAPID Prototyping: 3D Printing With Middle School Students













In this post we feature two middle school educators who joined Lucie deLaBruere and Charlie Wilson in a recent conversation about 3d printing in education as part of the Connected Voices series of Google Hangouts sponsored by Vita-Learn.


Fifth graders at Browns River Middle School love their 3D printer, but are baffled that the process of design is called “rapid” prototyping. A two hour print is “not rapid prototyping to an 11 year old”, says middle school teacher Mr. Willie Lee who would love a second printer to keep up with demand. As students are nearing the end of a design challenge where they create a board game and that includes 3D printed game pieces, the printer runs all day, yielding 3-4 game pieces a day. With 45 fifth graders participating in this challenge, the printing process can take up to 2 weeks.


After extensive research, Willie Lee took the recommendations from Make magazine, and purchased an Affinia H Series 3D printer for his classroom.

The metal printer with its 6X6 build area was ranked at having one of the best ‘out of the box’ experience, making it a great choice for a classroom. It has SD storage which frees up your laptop from the long print times. The print software was very intuitive and gives you lots information about your surfaces before the print job goes live. Students currently are not involved with cleaning up a print for printing using this software, but they do use professional modeling software to create their designs. After about 3 - 4 class period, Mr. Willie’s 5th and 6th grade students are able to use Sketchup as modeling software well enough to assemble imagine and invent using various shaped objects (often known as primitives) to complete new design challenges. They enjoy putting their skills to the test by participating in the Phone of the Future challenge [designed by Tony Galle] during the annual Engineering Day sponsored by the University of Vermont College of Engineering and Mathematical Science. Bringing home several awards, Lee’s students have motivated other students to get involved.


Meanwhile, at Swanton Elementary school, fifth graders are using Tinkercad to reate their 3D models in Mr. Gregory’s school. Rusti Gregory, tech integrationist, ventured into the world of 3D printing two years ago with a SolidDoodle 2 - which was NOT an “out of the box experience”. Two years ago, entering the world of 3D printing meant a lot more tweaking with settings, command line software, and longer set up times. Then there was the very “common” first timers experience of learning how to make filament stick to the bed — hairspray, or perhaps some blue painters tape along with the fiddling with the settings. But like many early adopters, Rusti and his students were not deterred and their experience and blazed the trails for others.


Once 
the printer was working smoothly, Mr. Gregory created a valley as a design challenge, for which the students started designing the perfect bridge. After they printed and tested their first design, students had a chance to ‘fix’ their design and print a second attempt. As in most design challenges, the changes to the second version included much more accurate measurements and strong evidence of learning through iteration.



Once the printer was working smoothly, Mr. Gregory created a valley as a design challenge, for which the students started designing the perfect bridge. After they printed and tested their first design, students had a chance to ‘fix’ their design and print a second attempt. As in most design challenges, the changes to the second version included much more accurate measurements and strong evidence of learning through iteration. students understood the process of design and print, the printer started to be used by students for passion projects. 



Every Friday students and teachers at Swanton Elementary participate in elective choice classes, where both teachers and students participate in passion based teaching and learning. When a group of students working with circuits to find different ways to generate electricity got the idea of using a water wheel, they found themselves approaching students learning to model 3D objects for help. This not only lead to collaborative learning, but also to ‘electricity” being generated using student designed 3D printed objects.


As the need to have a second 3D printer to support demand, Swanton Elementary looked again to SolidDoodle and purchased one of its newer models. Thankfully the new printer arrived just as their original 2 year printer stopped working. “I learned that it had outlived its life expectancy, so I guess we got our money’s worth and we learned that 3D printer parts have a limited life expectancy, so be prepared to replace them as needed.”


Caleb Clark, who helps teachers discover 3D printing, circuits, laser cutters, and more in his “Introduction to Making and Fabrication in Education” at Marlboro College’s Teaching with Technology program believes that early adopters of 3D printers in school, like Rusti and Willie, are models for best practices, “because 3D printing and other “Maker” type activities not only teach valuable engineering, math, technology and art skills but working with them also help students find out WHO they are and what they like to do. Traditionally asking kids “what are you passionate about” has not been a large part of school culture, but knowing what you love to do is very important in the search for satisfying and sustainable employment. The so called Maker movement is sneaking in an opportunity for students to discover their passions.”


As the bars for entry gets lower and lower, as software gets easier and a teacher knows they can plug it in and make it work, we will see more and more educators making curricular connections to the processes like 3D printing. Meanwhile, educators like Rusti Gregory and Willie Lee are preparing students who will be ready to help others as they enter the world of 3D printing.

Listen to the complete conversation below: 


Also See Part 2 of this series on 3D printing in Education where we feature high school students printing for a purpose.